LPO/Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Tchaikovsky the melodist has consistently upstaged Tchaikovsky the craftsman; immensely popular he may be, but immensely misunderstood and underrated, too.

Vladimir Jurowski, on the opening night of the London Philharmonic Orchestra's intriguing two-week perspective on the composer, set the record straight. He elegantly contrasted Stravinsky's ballet on Tchaikovsky themes, The Fairy's Kiss, with Tchaikovsky's First Symphony, "Winter Daydreams". Indeed, The Fairy's Kiss might easily have been imagined as one of those daydreams. Its woodwind voices have the first word, as in the Tchaikovsky symphony, but these are coarser, folksier voices. The LPO wind choir and especially impressive horns created in sound terms a kind of Cubist take on Tchaikovsky. It was like listening to one of his ballets refracted through Stravinsky's oblique musical imagination. Only Tchaikovsky could have imagined a dreamy solo string quartet in alternation with a lumpen country dance.

Tchaikovsky always led with his heart – but Jurowski's fastidious and loving attention to detail in the First Symphony displayed its classical credentials in ways one rarely hears. This performance was on the money from start to finish, its disciplined counterpoint liberating, not constraining, the melodic invention. There is no more glorious manifestation of this than the seamless slow movement, starting in misty contemplation before the theme – in solo oboe, with flute and bassoon – begins its winter journey to an apotheosis of burgeoning horns. Jurowski even made a real fist of the finale, its brooding introduction mirrored in the expectant, almost Brucknerian, slow burn to the coda. If anyone can "reveal" the real Tchaikovsky, this man can.

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